Danny Elfman has a hard time explaining why the cheery-creepy sounds he cooked up for the Tim Burton-produced, Henry Selick-directed Halloween favorite The Nightmare Before Christmas remain so beloved.
“I have no idea,” he told us in a recent interview (watch above). “Because when I wrote it, nobody understood it. I got horrible reviews for it. Disney didn’t know what to make of it. How could Disney know what to make of it? They did a preview with kids who were expecting The Little Mermaid and they got an unfinished version of The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Released under Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner because the studio thought the film would be too dark and scary for kids, Nightmare the movie was only a modest success upon its initial release in 1993, earning $50 million on a budget of $24 million.
But over the years, the film — following a skeletal zombie named Jack Skellington and the other ragtag monsters of Halloween Town — blossomed into a cult classic, in part because of the deliriously catchy compositions of Elfman (who also provided Skellington’s singing voice).
As Nightmare caught on with fans, it was re-released in 2006. And then again in 2007. And 2008. And 2009.
“To [Disney’s] credit, a decade later, they saw that there’s this weird Nightmare cult that never went away,” Elfman says. “And they reinvigorated their energy behind it, really to their credit. Because that’s rare. Generally a studio would go, ‘No, that ship has sailed.’ And in this case they came back and said, ‘No, let’s put energy into it again. There’s something there that never died, that never quite went away.’ And I’m so grateful for that.
“And when they came back a decade later, they did understand it. ‘We now know what this movie is. We didn’t when it came out. But we do now.’”
— Video produced by Kyle Moss and edited by Leese Katsnelson
Watch Danny Elfman talk about his latest work in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: